“Absolutely,” Sean Spencer says. “I remember it distinctly.”
He’s talking about The Hit, a game-defining play in what might be the most memorable game of his playing career. When we posted the video on Thursday, we promised to do some more digging on the specifics of that moment. We know that a couple of Spencer’s former college teammates found and uploaded the game footage. And we’re happy to report that Coach Chaos himself found time to tell us the story.
The set-up: It was 1992, the final game of Spencer’s first year of eligibility at Clarion University. The opponent: Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Spencer hadn’t been on campus long, but he knew that Clarion’s recent history against IUP was lopsided—in the wrong direction. “They always had those Division I transfers,” Spencer told us Friday. “They were always so much bigger and more talented than everybody else.”
Talent alone wouldn’t define their 1992 meeting, a season-ending match-up that would determine the PSAC title. Clarion had started the season 0-4, losing to some of the best sub-Division I teams in the nation, but they entered the season finale on a five-game winning streak. “We got on a roll,” Spencer remembers. And then IUP made the mistake of providing additional motivation. “We were warming up before the game, and they started trash-talking us,” Spencer says. “You know, I got a little fire in me, so we chirped back. When we went back in the locker room, I was so ticked off, tears started coming out of my eyes. I was going to take it out on somebody.”
That somebody turned out to be JeMone Smith, a 6-foot-6 receiver who would go on to play in the Arena League and briefly spent time on an NFL roster. The play in question? Spencer wasn’t sure of exactly how much time was left in the game. But he remembers the moment with almost perfect clarity.
“It was a great atmosphere. The stadium was going crazy. And we go them into this fourth down situation,” he says. “I can’t recall exactly the cover we were in, but I know my second read was to look for the crosser. And I saw him coming over the middle.”
The video shows what happened next: the ball, high but catchable, which Smith dropped an instant before Spencer arrived. “I saw him bobble the ball,” Spencer says, “and I said, win, lose, or draw, I’m taking this guy’s head off. For a second, I thought maybe I would pull up. But I didn’t pull up.
“Today,” Spencer admits, “that would be targeting. But this was when football was a little more nasty. I prided myself on trying to bring the heat.”
Looking back, Spencer jokes that he and his Clarion teammates “thought we were the Miami of Western Pennsylvania.” There’s more than a little irony in that: Penn State fans who are old enough to remember the 1986 national championship team might recall a pivotal moment in the ’87 Fiesta Bowl, when safety Ray Isom ’88, one of the “undersized” Nittany Lion defenders whom Miami’s trash-talking wideouts had mocked before the game, separated Michael Irvin from the ball. It was the first of seven Hurricane turnovers that unforgettable night in Tempe.
In Spencer’s memory, that Division II game in front of a small but raucous crowd at Clarion had something else in common with what remains one of college football’s great games. Like the Nittany Lions that night in the desert, Spencer says, “We just came together that day. We wouldn’t be denied.”
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